Day 10 / Saturday, April 30

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Day 10 at last year's Jazz Fest was challenging due to the incredible number of people who turned out on a perfect day weather-wise. This year was also challenging, but as you will see it was in a totally different way.

We executed our 2016 drill: get up ... get ready ... slather on sunblock ... gather Brass Pass and Jazz Fest ticket, shuttle bus tickets, cameras, and phones, plus the backpack with the rain gear. The weather forecast was definitely not good. As we watched it on the morning news, it didn't take a seasoned meterologist to see what was heading toward New Orleans.

When we left the Staybridge for the Sheraton on Canal Street and the shuttle buses with our coffee in hand, the skies were overcast and the temperature was 82 (the highest it would get all day). Humidity was 74 percent, so at 10 a.m. it already felt like 85 degrees. The breeze was anywhere from 12 to 16 miles per hour over the next couple of hours, and there were even some gusts in the 30-mph range.

It did not feel promising, but we arrived at the Fair Grounds ready to make the best of it. 

On the bus ride through the neighborhoods on the way to the Fair Grounds, we noticed all of the bright yellow lemonade stands set up along Broad Street. It was Lemonade Day in New Orleans, a program that encourages kids to learn about business and marketing by setting up a lemonade stand. There's a lemonade stand on almost every block, which shows the level of participation in this national program among the kids of New Orleans, and that's something they should be proud of. I hope they all survived the oncoming weather intact.

Our first order of business was, of course, food, or as we have been calling it, brunch at Jazz Fest. Laurie went for the old standby, crawfish bread (great video with the creator of crawfish bread) from Panorama Foods of Marksville, Louisiana, something that each one of has enjoyed many, many times over the years. Delicious bread stuffed with cheese and crawfish tails in a flavorful sauce and baked to melty, gooey perfection. The only thing better for brunch could be ... a crawfish sausage po'boy from Vaucresson’s Sausage Company of New Orleans -- another old standby, which I had. Here's a story about Vance Vaucresson, who attended his first Jazz Fest, the first Jazz Fest, in the sausage booth at age 2. Vaucresson's has been at Jazz Fest every year since.  

     

The first music of the day was sort of wide open for us, as nothing was marked as a "must see" on either of our cubes (here are today's). We decided to go to the Gentilly stage to see Paul Sanchez and the amalgamation of local singers and players he calls his Rolling Road Show.

Paul Sanchez is a troubadour from New Orleans. He is a storyteller, his own as well as ours. He is a student and a teacher, a traveler that finds home in a thousand different faces every night. In his own words, he is "New Orleans born, New Orleans bred, and when I die, I'll be New Orleans dead." 

He is known as a founding member of the rock band Cowboy Mouth, with whom he recorded 11 albums. He left that band in 2006 to focus on his life and songwriting. He has recorded 14 thought-provoking solo albums. 

Like many new Orleanians, Sanchez was tremendously impacted by Hurricane Katrina. "I lost my home, my possessions, my community, and, eventually, my job after the flood. I was changed. I'm changed as a person and it couldn't help but change my music," he says. Like many in the city, he struggled to find a new identity after the flood. After much soul-searching and after departing Cowboy Mouth, he lived on an island in Belize for a few months before returning to New Orleans to begin anew.

Sanchez writes songs the way your grandmother might have crafted quilts, painstakingly sewing the pieces together to form a blanket that will keep you warm when it's time to rest your head. Never one to be categorized or stay in the lines, he has a career as varied as New Orleans itself. He entertains and provokes. He holds your hand and he slaps your wrist. He's lived a thousand lives, but he wakes up every day with eyes wide open. 

Born on the River Road along the levee of the Mississippi River, Sanchez grew up in the blue-collar Irish Channel neighborhood, historic home to stevedores and river pilots. His first musical endeavor was in the New Orleans band The Backbeats, along with Vance DeGeneres, Steve Walters, and a drummer he was to encounter again in his career, Fred LeBlanc. He refined his art in the flourishing anti-folk scene during a stint in New York in the late 1980's.

When being interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show, Sanchez was asked by Ellen what he loved about New Orleans and he replied, "Well, I'm pretty sure we invented a good time so if you ever had one ..."

After Sanchez left Cowboy Mouth, he started to build a community of musicians around himself, and when he started to play d.b.a. regularly, he invited people to perform with him -- not just professional musicians, but amateurs and poets as well. Consciously or not, he seemed to want to surround himself with people, and he sat in with others, including Susan Cowsill. Slowly but surely, he accumulated a new musical circle, that included Alex McMurray, Shamarr Allen (who calls Paul 'uncle'), Craig Klein of Bonerama, and Glen David Andrews. From the start, Sanchez made sure that the band members got time in the spotlight to showcase their songs. "I just wanted to heal me, and their songs charge me," he said. "Then people started coming back, and that's what I always expected New Orleans would be like -- a real community. People who hear the Rolling Road Show shouldn't walk away saying, 'Man, that Paul Sanchez is great.' They should walk away saying, 'Man, New Orleans is great.'"

In addition to his music, Sanchez appeared in all four seasons of the HBO series "Tremé," and published a book of essays in 2009 entitled Pieces Of Me. The book deals with his sense of life, loss, and rebuilding after the flood. For the last few years he has been writing, recording, and performing a musical adaptation of the New York Times Best Seller Nine Lives, Dan Baum's multivoiced biography of a dazzling, surreal, and imperiled city, told through the lives of nine unforgettable characters and bracketed by two epic storms: Hurricane Betsy, which transformed New Orleans in the 1960s, and Hurricane Katrina, which nearly destroyed it. 

These days, Sanchez resides in the Tremé and performs both as a solo act and in any number of combinations with his many friends from the Rolling Road Show, the group which we saw. In the band today were: Lynn Drury (guitar), Alex McMurray (guitar and vocals), Sonia Tetlow (guitar, mandolin, banjo), Debbie Davis (ukulele), Susan Cowsill (vocals), Craig Klein (trombone), Shamarr Allen (trumpet), Michael Cerveris (vocals), and many others. It's just a great bunch of friends having a great time playing together.

Shamarr Allen is one of our New Orleans favorites, and how they came to play music together is an interesting story. It begins in 2006 at one of the in-store performances that the Louisiana Music Factory is known for during Jazz Fest (if you go to YouTube and search on them, you'll find a ton of live music there). Sanchez was still with Cowboy Mouth and Allen was still with the Rebirth Brass Band. Rebirth was going to play after Cowboy Mouth. During the Cowboy Mouth set, Sanchez sang Randy Newman's song Louisiana, 1927, and Shamarr got up and joined in on trumpet. Sanchez said, "I don't know who that young trumpet player is but that was beautiful." Sanchez asked him to play on his "Exit to Mystery Street" album and hired him for as many gigs as he could.

Recording their great album "Bridging the Gap" was Shamarr's idea. As Sanchez remembers it, "He called me up one day and said, 'Unc, I just saw a video on YouTube of Johnny Cash and Louis Armstrong playing together; we got to make us a record.' I said 'Cool,' and he said, "We'll record old people's music like you like and young people's music like I like. You'll sing my style, I'll sing yours.' The first song we did was Instant Karma. I showed him how to play four separate, simple piano parts, which at first he thought was dull. Then we spread the parts out in a wide pan and they popped out of the speakers like popcorn and it lit him up. Then he gave me Kanye West's Heartless and I went home to learn it. When we got back to the studio, I started singing it and he said, 'No, Unc, your phrasing ain't right. Even though you put a melody to it, you still got to sing the rap phrasing or it will sound --' ... '-- 50 and white?' I asked.

"He wanted to write originals and I dig the tunes we wrote, especially Love is Blind. Shamarr saw that painted on someone's car and wrote a chorus and loop for the song. He gave it to me as an assignment -- it was to be my first original hip-hop verse. I wrote a verse, but it was pop song length, four lines and out. He explained that hip-hop verses were four times as long, and he made me go back and listen to Kanye again."

The Rolling Road Show did Love Is Blind today, and it was a real treat to hear it. We also saw Sanchez join Shamarr to sing it at his show on the Congo Square stage in 2014. 

The last tune that the band played was a song that Sanchez wrote with John Boutté. At the Foot of Canal Street came about when Boutté and Sanchez took a break from a songwriting session to make a refreshment run to a nearby K&B drugstore.

"We were walking across Canal Street," Boutté said. "Paul said, 'Look, my dad's buried there.' I said, 'My dad's buried there, too.'

"I said, 'Look, this is life, man. It doesn't matter if you're black, white, whatever. The great equalizer is, we're all going to meet at the foot of Canal Street.'

"That’s the final say. Everything else is moot." Thus the song. It was on Boutté's album "Jambalaya" released in 2011:

Don't waste you time being angry when a moment's better with a smile.

If you feel you're time's been wasted waste it here a while, standing at that bus stop just across from Krausse waiting for the driver to take me to my heavenly house

I'll see you there at the foot of Canal Street.
What will you wear at the foot of Canal Street?
Will the band be playing at the foot of Canal Street?
What will the people be saying at the foot of Canal Street?
Does your father lie there? Does your mother pray there?
I'm going to put on my golden crown at the foot of Canal Street.

When the levee banks have overflowed and the street car has seen it's day,

When all is gone, the plantations, the Tremé, and the Vieux Carré, I'll be swinging to that music way up on higher ground where Pops is blowing "Walk On" with Gabriel making sacred sounds.

I'll see you there at the foot of Canal Street.
What will you wear at the foot of Canal Street?
Will the band be playing at the foot of Canal Street?What will the people be saying at the foot of Canal Street?
Does your father lie there? Does your mother pray there?
I'm going to put on my golden crown at the foot of Canal Street.

If you don't know by now, Canal Street runs from the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans (where it provides the up-river border to the French Quarter) to the Mid-City cluster of cemeteries mentioned in the song. The cemeteries are: Odd Fellows Rest, established in 1849 as the final resting place of members of the Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows; the Charity Hospital and Katrina Memorial Cemetery, the final resting place for thousands who died in Charity Hospital, particularly during the yellow fever epidemic, and the unclaimed and unidentified victims of the flood; Greenwood Cemetery and Mausoleum, opened in 1852, is one of the city's largest; and Cypress Grove Cemetery, established in 1840 by the Firemen's Charitable and Benevolent Association, is recognized for its fine marble and cast iron tombs. After a slight jog in the area of the cemeteries, the road continues toward Lake Pontchartrain as Canal Boulevard

My video of the Rolling Road Show today is mostly Love Is Blind and Foot of Canal Street. When you watch that video, you'll notice some writing on Paul's guitar. It says: "This machine surrounds sadness and forces it to surrender." 

This performance was magic. The group of exuberant musicians, the threatening weather, and the wonderful ending tune all added up to something special. I highly recommend listening to any of the recordings by Paul Sanchez. He is everything that we love about New Orleans. We became instant fans of this really good artist.

I guess you are wondering about the Rolling Road Show member by the name of Susan Cowsill. At least you are if you are of my age. Yes, it is indeed that Cowsill, of the family that charted the songs Indian Lake and The Rain, the Park, and Other Things in the 1960's. She was the youngest member of the Cowsills and the only girl in the Cowsill family band. 

In 1969, at age 10, she contributed to the vocals in what would become the Cowsills' biggest hit, Hair, and became known for her performance of the line, "and spaghetti'd" which she sang with a squeakiness in her voice that she still uses when she performs the song live.

Susan has lived in New Orleans since the early 1990's. Her home and belongings (including a sizeable amount of Cowsills memorabilia) were destroyed in the Federal flood. Her brother Barry, who moved to New Orleans in 2005, did not evacuate and became one of the victims of the hurricane; his body was not found until late in December. Although his death was attributed to drowning, nobody really knows what happened to him. She paid tribute to Barry on her latest CD with her version of his song River of Love. Despite her losses, she remains a New Orleans resident and still performs regularly with her band at Carrollton Station.

So, again, so far, so good. Laurie's crawfish bread didn't have the staying power of the crawfish sausage, so she stopped at the WWOZ booth near the Fais Do Do stage for a cool Mango Freeze. Always delicious, especially when it's warm and humid. Very humid. 

We were heading to the Fais Do Do stage to see some modern Creole la-la from one of our favorite bands, Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole. You can read all about Cedric and the band in earlier reports (Day 3 in 2013 and Day 4 in 2014, and Day 8 last year). You can tell by now that if you get three cross-references it's somebody we really, really like. 

This band has great talent, that much has been apparent from the first time we saw them. What has been fun to watch over the years is how they have come into their own as performers. They are relaxed and having a great time on stage, as you can see in my video from today. By the way "Bijou Creole" translates as "Creole Jewels." Here are 1, 2, and 3 from this year's Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette.

In addition to Watson, the band is Desiree Champagne (scrubboard), Kyle Gambino (sax), the flexible Ian Guidroz (bass) (I have no idea why he does this), and Aaron Boudreaux (drums). Last year, a guitarist was a mystery man. This year, it's the keyboard player. Regardless, the music of these folks is positively infectious, true to Watson's Creole roots, but also drawing on African and Caribbean music as well.

                             

Two performances into the day, the sky were beginning to look threatening, but again, so far, so good. We walked to the back of the Gentilly viewing area, on the track, to listen to a few minutes of the young southern Louisiana band called Sweet Crude. This band identifies itself as making progressive music that also embraces the region's French-speaking tradition and keeping the language relevant via art. Also they like to drink whiskey and dance all the time.

Sweet Crude writes, sings, and plays joyous, inventive pop songs that feature lyrics in both English and Louisiana Cajun French. But the mournful tales of heartbreak heard so often in Cajun music don't figure into their French lyrics.

"It's fun to break away from that," singer and violinist Sam Craft said. "I'm not singing about country life or about the woman who left me for a man from Texas. I have to draw from my own experiences."

There's another big difference between Sweet Crude and just about every other band in Louisiana, not to mention anywhere. They use no guitars. Instead, their music is built on vocals and drums.

"We feared that if we had guitars in the band, that would immediately be a template," Craft said. "We wanted to do something that we didn't see every day."

So Sweet Crude uses five drummers, a violin, keyboards, and an occasional trumpet. Craft said, "We've been able to make all of the sounds we've ever wanted to make. We don't miss the guitar at all."

All of the members of Sweet Crude share French heritage. "There's a pretty strong movement of people my age," Craft said, "whose grandparents speak French, who can get it from a firsthand source. It's not so obvious in New Orleans, but if you go to Lafayette or Houma, there's a fervent group of young people who have taken the initiative to learn the language. We share the mission of having it be viable in art and business. It's more than a parlor trick."

The interest Craft and Sweet Crude have in the French language makes their performances in Lafayette a special treat. "When we go to Lafayette, from the time we load into the venue to the time we pack up and leave, there are always Francophone people around -- younger adopters of the language, like me, people from French-speaking countries and older folks whose first language was French."

When Sweet Crude plays in Baton Rouge, LSU French professors and students studying French attend the group's performances. "The last time we played there, a teacher gave her students extra credit for coming to our show," Craft said. French speakers even came to hear Sweet Crude at Joe's Pub in New York City, having seen Sweet Crude music videos on YouTube.

"We're excited about getting our music out there," Craft said. "We want to get people excited about it."


We didn't see much more than 15 minutes of this performance, but it was definitely interesting and worth a closer look. Here's a nice long excerpt from today's show.

After Sweet Crude was finished, as we were standing on the track at the back of the Gentilly stage area trying to decide what to do next, who should we encounter but the guy we hung out with during the Dumpstaphunk and Ben Harper / Charlie Musselwhite shows at the Gentilly stage on Day 3 in 2013. He wore a fez, and a button with the name "Bubbles." Laurie had encountered him once since, when he hadn't really recognized her, and I actually saw him this year at the Acura stage before Anders Osborne's show. This time he recognized us, as he remembered he had called Laurie "Virginia." We had a nice little talk and wished each other well in the approaching weather. He's a guy who does Jazz Fest like we do, namely mobile. His real name is Steve.

It is pretty incredible to me that Jazz Fest draws the same people, I guess like us, year after year, and that some of the people, or some of their clothing choices, or some of the flags or other things they carry around on poles are instantly recognizable every year. Among these are of course the pork chop and Professor Longhair on poles, the older guy who dances at the Fais Do Do stage wearing a hat with flowers all over it, the guy with green moustache, the guy with the grey khaki skirt, the guy who looks an awful lot like Laurie's grandfather, the blender on a pole, and the guy wearing a pith helmet with a foil bird on a pole.  

I doubt, however, if we are memorable to anybody.  

OK, so, given the look of the sky, which was getting darker by the minute, we decided it would be a good idea to grab some lunch. The only thing more inconvenient than listening to music in the rain is trying to eat in the rain, so this turned out to be a good move.

Laurie had a repeat, the platter made up of seafood au gratin, spinach artichoke casserole, and a sweet potato pone from Ten Talents Catering of Covington, Louisiana. How many times has Laurie had this platter? Let me count the ways, er, days: Day 11 last year, Day 9 in 2014, and Day 3 and Day 10 in 2013. I always get tastes of everything on the platter because it is a very large amount of food, and all three components are very tasty.

I had a BBQ Brisket Sandwich with coleslaw from Squeal's Smoke Street Catering of New Orleans. I had this last year on Day 4, when it made its first appearance at Jazz Fest. I wasn't wowed with it then, but thought it to be much better this year. Maybe it was the circumstances, my last meal before the inevitable deluge.

 

However, still dry, and still outdoors, we headed to the Jazz and Heritage stage for our annual visit with the amalgamation of brass band allstars known as the Midnite Disturbers. This would be show number four for us with this great group, who we previously saw on Day 4 in 2013, Day 10 in 2014, and also on Day 10 last year. You can certainly read more about who's in this band and how it came into being at those pages.

When we arrived at the stage, the party has just begun, and for some reason Shamarr Allen was playing (or I should say trying to play) a sousaphone, apparently because somebody was late in arriving. That got the proceedings off to a crazy start, and it just kept getting crazier from there, as in each tune the members of the band traded solos and back-and-forths until the song ended with the whole group blasting you with a force of brass that just slays you. It's great, great music.

          

As always, the rhythmic backbone of the Midnite Disturbers was in the form of founders and drummers Kevin O'Day and Stanton Moore. The other members of the band that I could identify today were Big Sam Williams and Corey Henry on trombones; Shamarr Allen, Julian Gosin, and Chadrick Honore on trumpet; Edward Lee on sousaphone; Ben Ellman, Nick Ellman, Erion Williams, and Skerik on saxophones. I'm missing the second sousaphone and a couple of percussionists. Not bad on the ID, though. 

I'd say the highlight of this show was the trombone duel between two of the best, Big Sam Williams and Corey Henry. At the end of the show, this awesome band turned Henry's Midnite Disturbers staple Buck It Like a Horse into an long, long romp, which at times soared with group playing, got loose during sax and trumpet and especially sousaphone solos, and had spoken interludes with Allen exhorting the large crowd to step up its dancing: "We're not going to Buck It all by ourselves." This show is simply a great time, and as my video shows, the crowd was having a blast. Toward the end of my video you will also see a pan of the crowd out toward the west where you will see a lightning bolt, and you'll also see a couple of big drops of rain pass by the lens.


Yes, our luck had run out. We put on our rain gear, that is, our windbreakers and platic ponchos, and raised our umbrella. It was just rain at first, although really wind-driven (at this time the wind was a steady 12 mph with gusts to 25 mph). We had our waterproof shoes on, and we always remember that humans are essentially waterproof, so we stayed with our plan, heading over to the Blues Tent catch some of the great guitarist Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings with his good friend, Paraguayan violinist and harpist Carlos Reyes

The music Rogers and Reyes produce is just specatcular, and if you go to Day 10 in the 2014 report you can read all about them. This is the second time they have been in the Blues Tent and the second time we have not been able to get in due to the crowd, and of course the crowding was worse today because of the onset of the rain. 

So we huddled under our umbrella, looking into the tent at a place where we could hear fairly well and actually see the video screen at the side of the stage. My video stinks, but here it is. We made it to the end of the show, watching the rain begin to puddle on the pavement at our feet. Here are one and two and three videos taken by someone who actually got into the tent.  

At this point our phones alerted us to the fact that the heavy stuff was about to come down. 

Fortunately, we were very close to the WWOZ hospitality tent, and we ducked in for what we hoped would be the duration of the storm. The tent was dark and crowded, and from where we stood the wind, which at the peak of the storm was sustained at 25 mph and gusting to near 40 mph, was blowing the rain past us horizontally, and the water was just pouring off the top of the tent. Check out my video of the view from our shelter from the storm here. You'll notice the water ponding on the walk in front of the tent. That was indicative of the fact that the drains at the Fair Grounds were not able to keep up with the two inches plus of rain pouring out of the sky in a very short period of time.

We were not aware of what was going on elsewhere on the Fair Grounds. The whole place was flash flooding, the likes of which nobody had ever seen before at Jazz Fest. The ditches inside the main track and the turf track filled up and essentially turned the viewing areas at the main stages into lakes. Chairs and tarps and coolers were literally floating away. Slowly, but surely, the stages shut down due to submerged power conduits, wind-driven rain, flooding (in the tents), and general disarray.

Around 4 p.m. the Jazz Fest people shut the whole festival down for the day. This was a major hit for the Fest. The second Saturday is always the biggest day and the crowd was large before the weather sent everybody running for the hills. Oh, wait, there are no hills in New Orleans. It was very disappointing. Stevie Wonder was to appear, as were Snoop Dogg, Beck, Buddy Guy, and Arturo Sandoval. As for me, I missed Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas. Stevie Wonder's personal grand piano got soaked, but he still thought enough of the people who were waiting throughout the storm, and cared enough for the memory of Prince, that he found a bullhorn and seranaded those people with an a capella rendition of Purple Rain.

 

 

  

But here's the thing. Standing in the WWOZ tent, we had no idea the festival had shut down. Even when the rain let up enough to allow us to venture out, around 5 p.m., after about 90 minutes, we didn't know until we saw it on the big screen in the Blues Tent. So, we did an about-face and headed for the really long line for the shuttle busses, because when Jazz Fest shuts down, apparently they don't notify people like the shuttle bus operators so that they can deal with the sudden influx of (wet and disappointed) people. Which makes them even more wet and disappointed as they wait in line in the rain. By the time we got on the bus and returned to the Staybridge we had pretty much had it for the day. The rain finally ended around 7 p.m., just when Jazz Fest would have ended for the day. Here's a nice long tour of the Fair Grounds after Jazz Fest shut down so you can see how it looked.



Later this evening, Stevie Wonder would appear at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse with Mayfield and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews. Snoop Dogg appeared at the Carver Theater with Mannie FreshThe Lone Bellow, which was due to perform at the Fais Do-Do Stage at Jazz Fest, did a 30-minute show at the Ace Hotel. Beck showed up at Preservation Hall just in time to join a short second-line parade at 1:30 a.m. that also included members of Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, and the Houston soul band the Suffers.

As for us, around 10:30 I got a bit hungry for something more than the leftover pork chop from Emeril's last night, so we took a stroll down to, where else but, the Pinkberry at the Doubletree Hotel on Canal Street to get me a late evening snack. What's it like in New Orleans at 10:30 p.m. after a day like this? It was 70 degrees with 87-percent humidity. 

All in all, considering nearly half of the day was thwarted by the weather, we still saw three full performances and parts of two others, so we really can't complain. The Jazz Fest folks announced that they would honor tickets for Saturday on Sunday, an unprecidented step for them. Given the conditions we saw when we left, and given tomorrow's forecast, we could only hope that they decide that they can open the place at all.

© Jeff Mangold 2012